By Liana Grey
Eric Gordon, president of RealPlus, a firm that advises brokers on the latest apps and gadgets, used to mail popcorn to his clients every December.
About six years ago, it dawned on him that the last thing brokers needed was one more holiday gift basket. “So we donated money to St. Jude’s on behalf of clients,” he said.
Brokerage firms received a tribute card about the donation and the hospital, which researches cures for pediatric cancer. And thus began an annual tradition. “I think the clients appreciate it, but I think they miss the popcorn,” Gordon joked.
This year, he changed things up and sent funds to Heifer International, a nonprofit that provides livestock to families in Africa, South Asia, Latin America, and parts of Eastern Europe.
The idea came to him after his teenage son and daughter, both animal lovers, began contributing allowance money to the nonprofit on behalf of their grandparents. “They sent $10 a month to India,” Gordon said.
Indeed, personal and company-wide philanthropic efforts tend to overlap. Last year, Long Island-based developer Ed Kalikow told Real Estate Weekly that he was inspired to raise thousands of dollars for Parkinson’s disease research after his father passed away from the illness.
In addition to donating to Heifer International, Gordon decided to give clients, which include Corcoran, CORE, and Brown Harris Stevens, a chance to contribute to a favorite cause. “We bought domain names on behalf of clients,” Gordon explained. “We gave them to clients and said, ‘instead of paying us $29, give it to a charity of your choice.’”
On a blog launched by City Connections, several brokers recommended volunteer services to their colleagues.
Cara Rosenbloom, a senior associate at the boutique firm, has donated time to Housing Works Thrift Store, a nonprofit that provides food, shelter, medical support, and employment opportunities to AIDS patients. “You can just show up at a location and tell them how much time you have, and they’ll put you to work,” she explained in the blog post.
Austin Murphy, a sales agent, supports another AIDS-related charity, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. “It provides Christmas baskets of goodies to the homebound and holds fundraisers throughout the year, including Broadway Bares each spring,” he said.
For some firms with a philanthropic bent, the choice of charity is less personal than strategic. For the past three years, the DeMatteis Organizations and Mattone Group have held toy drives for needy children in the playroom of the Azure, their 34-story luxury tower on the corner of First Avenue and 91st Street.
Besides bringing holiday cheer to the less fortunate, the goal has been to highlight the building’s appeal to families. “Kids are the focus for our large residential units,” said Douglas MacLaury, senior vice president of the Mattone Group.
The building, which is nearly 50% sold, has about a dozen three- to five-bedroom units still on the market, ranging in price from $1.981 million to $5.686 million, according to Streeteasy.
Like Gordon, who decided to donate to Heifer International because of his kids, the developers stumbled on the beneficiary of this year’s toy drive by chance. Several months ago, a mortgage banker at Wells Fargo happened to mention KidCare, a nonprofit group that assists homeless and underprivileged children. “He sits on the board,” MacLaury said.
Of 150 guests that showed up to drop off presents for KidCare earlier this month, a number were brokers. The rest were residents of the building, many of whom brought along their young children. Before the gala began, homeless children were invited upstairs to play and pick up a Christmas present.
The toy drive wasn’t the first community event real estate professionals attended at the Azure. Over the summer, a handful of brokers joined neighborhood parents attending a free seminar in the building’s penthouse on the school selection process, a topic near and dear to the development team.
As part of a land lease agreement with the city, DeMatteis and Mattone constructed a middle school next door to the Azure. The deal, along with a handful of other school-related projects, including the DeMatteis team’s work on P.S. 276 in Battery Park City, boosted the building’s family-friendly image.
“DeMatteis is the largest builder of schools in New York,” said MacLaury. “Mattone is a benefactor to St. John’s in Queens.”
To further emphasize their focus on children, the developers organized a panel discussion on summer camps, and held a pumpkin-carving event before Thanksgiving for families at the Azure. “We invited local businesses,” MacLaury said of the latter event. Representatives from New York City Elite, a children’s gymnastics program down the street, and Art Farm, an educational center with an indoor petting zoo, showed up.
“Our approach is that there don’t have to be [prospective] buyers that come to events,” MacLaury said, so long as they’re aware that the building is active in the community.
The same thinking influenced plans for the holiday season at MeadowWood at Gateway, a middle-income housing development in East New York, Brooklyn.
“We’re going to do more charitable things; a toy drive for kids, a clothing drive,” said Jean Paul Ho, sales director at the condo development and a senior vice president at Fillmore.
At a recent event co-hosted with an art-related nonprofit, kids at MeadowWood competed in an African dance contest, and received free karate lessons.
Beyond the holiday season, the sales team offers seminars for first-time homebuyers – a program that at once serves East New York’s largely lower-income community and helps market the development, which was acquired and converted to condos several years ago by Taconic Investment Partners and AREA Property Partners.
Manhattan North Management, a landlord and manager of over 3,500 affordable housing units in Harlem, also focuses its charity work on the community surrounding its buildings.
On Thanksgiving, the company provided 150 three-course meals for elderly residents at some of the HUD developments it manages.
This month, the firm is co-sponsoring a tree-lighting ceremony in East Harlem, as well as a holiday festival on 125th Street which, last year almost went dark due to lack of funding. And not long after New Year’s, the firm will be contributing funds to the annual Three Kings Day parade hosted by El Museo del Barrio, the East Harlem museum dedicated to the area’s Hispanic community. This year’s festivities will include everything from camels to giant puppets.
“A major portion of our staff works and lives in El Barrio,” said Jaritza Taveras, director of community and government affairs at the company. “So our commitment not only extends to the buildings we manage and the residents, but to the community itself.”